John Floyd
Motorsport columnist
5 minute read
20 Apr 2022
7:55 am

Croatia readying itself for WRC’s return to action

John Floyd

Third round of this year's championship will see the third surface condition after the ice of Monte Carlo and the snow of Sweden.

Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin on Rally Monte Carlo earlier this year. Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

It is Croatia’s second year on the WRC calendar and the first all asphalt rally for the new generation of the hybrid-powered Rally 1 cars.

The event will run around the capital of Zagreb over roads with surfaces varying from smooth to worn and rough, the result of weather and water damage, which challenge the constantly changing grip levels.

Despite many roads being narrow, the rally is normally fast and demands accurate pace notes to tackle the many jumps and crests en route.

Initially run as the INA Delta TLX Rally in 1974, the event soon became a national rally in the former Yugoslavia.

Then in 1986 it was incorporated into the European Championship and moved to Zagreb, rising to the top level of the European series in 2007.

The rally was forced to relocate to Rijeka and then to Istria as a result of a severe economic recession.

In 2021, it became a WRC event and Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Sebastien Ogier was victorious in the first-ever world championship rally to be held in Croatia.

2022 World Rally Championship Croatia preview
A credible finish will be the main aim for former champions Ott Tanak and Martin Järveoja in Croatia. Image: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

After Thursday’s shakedown stage, the cars move to Zagreb’s National and University Library for the evening ceremonial start, followed by an overnight halt.

On Friday morning the 66 entries will head off to challenge the day’s eight special stages covering 120.38 km, the first of 20 special stages totalling 291.84 km they will face over the next three days. The total distance of the event is 1 642.18 km.

Saturday the rally moves to a similar territory where a further eight stages of 116.98 km, including the longest of the rally, awaits the crews.

On the first two days, teams will break for a mid-day service at the central service park in Zagreb.

ALSO READ: History repeats as WRC Sweden heads the way of a Rovanperä

Sunday’s finale north of Zagreb, features the widest roads on the entire rally and the four stages are very technical, totalling 54.48 km, they include the all-important points scoring Wolf Power Stage to end the day.

Current manufacturers championship leaders, Toyota Gazoo Racing, (83 points) will field Elfyn Evans (4 points) and co-driver Scott Martin who will be looking for maximum points following their poor start to the season, following a 21st position finish in Monte Carlo and DNF in Sweden.

Esapekka Lappi (15 points) with Janne Ferm did not compete in Monte Carlo, Sebastien Ogier taking the drive, but achieved an excellent 3rd in Sweden.

2022 World Rally Championship Croatia preview
After a history setting victory on Rally Sweden, Kalle Rovanperra and Jonne Halttunen will face a tougher battle to take victory on tarmac. Image: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanpera (46 points) and Jonne Halttunen head the chase for the driver’s title, a 4th on the season opener and victory in Sweden they will be looking for a better result in Croatia than 2021.

Finally Takamoto Katsuta (18 points) and co-driver Aaron Johnston will be seeking another solid result in the Yaris Rally1of Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG(22) following an 8th and 4th on the first events of 2022.     

The M-Sport Ford WRT (59 points) hold the second spot on the manufacturer’s log but it certainly has not been the start that both Craig Breen (16 points) with co-driver Paul Nagle or Adrien Fourmaux (0 points) and Alexandre Coria were hoping for.

The Irishman took 3rd on the Monte Carlo, then finished 36th after a meeting with a large snowdrift in Sweden.

Fourmaux has suffered two retirements, a huge roll on the first event and an engine issue on the second, he will be very determined to finish in the points in Croatia, his WRC debut event last year.

Following in Fourmaux’s footsteps as they make their WRC debut in Croatia, is Pierre-Louis Loubet and co-driver Vincent Landais, the local roads will present a real baptism of fire.

2022 World Rally Championship Croatia preview
M-Sport’s Craig Breen will be hoping for a better result in Croatia than the 36th on Rally Sweden. Image: M-Sport Ford WRT.

The final M-Sport Ford team entry is the improving Gus Greensmith (20 points) and Jonas Andersson who have taken two 5th positions this year and will be pushing the Puma Rally 1 to move onto the podium.

Holding on to the 2nd spot on the driver’s table is Thierry Neuville (32 points) with Martijn Wydaeghe in the Hyundai Shell Mobis i20 N Rally 1 after a 6th in Monte Carlo and 2nd on the Swedish leg and will push to close his points deficit to Rovanpera.

The team lies in third position in the constructor‘s championship (47 points) and will be hoping for Ott Tänak (5 points) and Martin Järveoja to complete the rally without issue.

Monte Carlo was plagued by punctures and finally, an off-road excursion resulting in retirement and a hybrid unit issue led to a 20th place in Sweden for the Estonian crew.

A combination of smoke and fuel fumes inside the i20 N Rally 1 of Oliver Solberg (8 points) and co-driver Elliot Edmondson contributed to a crash and retirement for the team, but a solid 6th in Sweden demonstrated the potential of the young Norwegian, who will be out to increase his tally this weekend.

This weekend’s Croatia Rally could go to any one of the top drivers. Rovanpera led the title chase as he entered last year’s Croatian event and crashed out five kilometres into the first stage.

A challenging event and last year went down to the wire with just 0.6 seconds between Evans and winner Ogier, the Welshman will be very determined to take victory in 2022.